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Recording Music, Why was it so difficult 26 years ago? - Stephen Donnelly of Berkeley Function Band

I remember the first recording that I ever did was on a C60 cassette tape back in 1993 and the only reason I could record was due to the tape deck having a microphone. The quality was awful, it hissed and distorted at times when I sang or played dynamically louder. It was mere novelty more than anything else. About 1995 I recorded a self-written song with a few friends on an old Foxtex mixer and reel to reel tape recorder. The difference was night and day. This recording was 100 times more pleasing on the ear than that first time using an old boombox.

As the years went on, recording songs with my band became easier, largely this was due to the development that music technology companies were making and the introduction of sound cards and expansion ports for getting more than one track recorded at a time digitally. No more faded recordings on tape when you had to bounce tracks to free up space for more parts waiting to be recorded. This was both a blessing and a curse as my old friend ‘latency’ appeared on the scene making things that little more challenging.

Recording drums became a real nightmare or any other instrument through a PC for that matter. Although recording equipment technology had moved on, computer equipment was still lagging behind the curve. The way I got round this was to use an analogue mixer; this let me set up room microphones so that I could hear drums, guitar and guide vocals in real-time through the headphone amp while at the same time having the drum kit properly set up with recording microphones feeding into the soundcards. The sound cards that I had at the time in 2004 allowed me to record 16 tracks at once using XLR inputs. As a mixer was used I could then send the vocal and guitar guides into the sound cards via the monitor channels on the mixer. This may seem like a long way for a shortcut but in principal all latency was removed from the recording process.

Recommendations for budding engineers or bands that self-produce

Fast forward 26 years and we have a plethora of options available with computer equipment, recording equipment and virtual plugins. If only it was available at the lighting speed that it is today all those years ago.

So here we are in 2021 and I am recording music using a refurbished 2012 MacBook Pro, TC Helicon Voice Live 2 to record vocals and a PODHD500X for recording guitar and bass parts. The real beauty of using the TC and POD equipment is that even today we still get audio lag or my old friend latency. Both of these pieces of equipment act like that analogue mixer that was mentioned earlier, so when recording it is always in real-time.

Tip number one is buying a reasonably good computer, I opted for a refurbished Mac, minimum you will need is 2.9Ghz processor and 8 GB ram. PC’s are just as good but I wanted to use Logic Pro and you can’t do that on a PC. A very good alternative for music recording on a PC is Cakewalk by BandLab; this program I have used for years is the more versatile platform I have encountered and not to mention it is now free to use and is open source for future development.

Tip number two, get yourself a reasonable soundcard; PreSonus are great, as are Focusrite and SSL. The TC Helicon and POD are my right arm because I can use them as a mixer bypassing any latency issues. USB 3.0, FireWire and Thunderbolt sound cards are a great choice to go for.

Tip number three, if you want to record vocals you will need a condenser microphone, a small vocal booth to deaden the area around the microphone and a good pair of closed back headphones.

My final tip, invest in studio quality reference monitors, this will help you in more ways than words will ever explain. The music recording equipment that you have doesn’t need to be expensive but functional for your own personal requirements.

My next blog will be on recording and how to get the best audio quality into your PC or Mac, until then stay safe.

Stephen plays guitar and sings for the Berkeley Function Band. He has a BA Honours in Commercial Music from UWS making him a fellow UWS alumni alongside Songplistic's own Ross Sloan! He is also working on new original material so stay tuned!

The Berkeley Function Band can be found on:

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